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Bedtime snacking is fine if you make the right choices

Bedtime snacking is fine if you make the right choices

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There are those times when it’s hours past dinner, with bedtime just around the corner, and you’re craving a snack or, maybe, your tummy starts growling.

And you may wonder, should you eat before bed or not? Is it healthy? Could it disrupt your sleep?

A foundational understanding is that while it’s ideal to stop eating two to four hours before going to bed, being hungry before bedtime may be a signal you’re not eating adequately during the day. Not eating a proper diet, or eating an excess amount of sugar or carbohydrates, while simultaneously lacking fiber, protein, and healthy fats during the day, can lead to a blood sugar crash that causes hunger late at night. And hunger can disrupt your sleep.

Depending on what you eat and how much you eat, you can indeed satisfy bedtime hunger pangs while supporting your ability to fall asleep — without causing nightmares, acid reflux or leading to weight gain.

Eat a light (less than 200 calories) snack, not a heavy meal. The digestive system slows down while you sleep, so eating too much can make you uncomfortable.

Just as it’s believed that eating before sleep can lead to weight gain and cardiometabolic diseases, a smart choice of a light snack can help make a welcomed, healthy difference to get that much-needed night of sleep. And yes, a light healthy snack after dinner can actually help you fall asleep—and stay asleep—while controlling the urge for snacks in the middle of the night (another time many people report wanting to snack).

The right snack can support undisturbed sleep which in turn helps to prevent overeating, overall. Not getting the right quantity and quality of sleep can lead to weight gain. And, undisturbed sleep helps to support additional health benefits including keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy, helping to regulate blood sugar, reducing stress and inflammation while boosting concentration, focus, problem-solving and brain power the next day.

So, when hunger strikes before or at bedtime, choose wisely. Avoid:

Caffeine: chocolate, coffee, tea, soda (even caffeine-free drinks contain small amounts)

Spicy or acidic foods: can give you acid reflux, keeping you awake

High-calorie foods: junk foods and creamy desserts (e.g., cookies, ice cream)

High-sugar or simple carbohydrates trigger cravings and a “sugar high” can make you feel wired/jittery

Preserved and smoked meats (ham, bacon, sausages) contain high levels of tyramine, an amino acid, that causes the brain to release norepinephrine, a stimulant

Better snack choices:

If you have a sweet-tooth, consider a limited quantity of walnuts, cherries or kiwis, which promote production of the sleep hormone melatonin

The combination of tryptophan, complex carbohydrates and magnesium can help make you drowsy (consider almonds, half a banana or cherries)

Whole-grain crackers with peanut butter: Another magical combo (tryptophan plus complex carbs) that will promote sound slumbering

Mug of warm milk: Drinking it before bedtime can help you sleep better, thanks to the dairy drink’s tryptophan, calcium and magnesium

Small whole-grain cereal or oatmeal bowl with milk: The milk’s tryptophan, calcium, and magnesium, coupled with the cereal’s calming complex carbs and magnesium, can make you feel sleepy. Opt for a low-sugar cereal, to avoid a spike in blood sugar. Or consider hot, steel-cut oatmeal with milk. Oatmeal is a rich source of sleep-promoting melatonin.

Half of a turkey sandwich: Using whole-wheat bread (rich in complex carbs and magnesium) and a couple of slices of turkey (the most famous source of tryptophan) or choose fish, chicken, or low-fat cheese, which are also rich in tryptophan

Eggs are protein-rich and chock-filled with tryptophan

Hummus with veggies or whole grain crackers. Made from chickpeas, hummus is protein packed and high in lysine and methionine, which can promote sleep.

Popcorn is yummy and surprisingly low in calories if you avoid butter. Rich in fiber and complex carbs, it’s a satisfying snack.

Eating a limited portion of a healthy snack will not cause harm and, again, can help you with getting a good night of sleep. Focus on what you eat and the portion.

And every day, break your fast in a smart manner: Eat a healthy breakfast! Skipping breakfast has been shown to result in poor eating choices later in the day and close to bedtime. Skipping breakfast can lead to an unhealthy cycle as heavy, late-night snacks can make it more likely to skip a nutritious breakfast, which can again be a cause of nighttime hunger.

Rest assured, a little pre-slumber snack may help you sleep more soundly — in a healthy manner — if you reach for the right foods in moderation.

Here’s to nights of those great, treasured ZZZZZs. Sleep sweet.

Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions for Dr. Nina to with “Dr. Nina” in the subject line.

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